WNBA’s Griner Gets Support In Trial From Character Witnesses

KIMKI, Russia (Associated Press) – Britney Grenier’s drug possession trial resumed Thursday with the off-season president of the Russian club she plays with and a female colleague from that squad testified in support of her character and what the WNBA women’s basketball star means to the country.

Greiner, who pleaded guilty last week, did not testify as expected on the third day of the trial. She has been held in Russia since February, and the US government is under pressure at home to do more to secure her freedom. Her guilty plea may be an attempt to speed up court proceedings so that any prisoner exchange negotiations can move forward.

Greiner was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport in the Russian capital when customs officials said they found cannabis oil vape packages in her luggage. She admitted in court that she was in possession of the packages, but said she had no criminal intent and said their presence in her luggage was due to speedy packing. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

In the Russian judicial system, an admission of guilt does not automatically end a trial

Most reporters were denied access to Thursday’s hearing, but UMMC Director Ekaterinburg, in which she plays during the WNBA offseason, then told reporters that he had testified as a witness.

“Our task today was to tell the court about her characteristics as an athlete, as a person – tell how she played a huge role in the success of the Yekaterinburg club and the Russian women’s basketball as a whole,” club director Maxim Rybakov.

“Today is the first day we see our basketball player since February. Thank God, she feels good and looks good,” said Rybakov outside the courtroom in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where the airport is located.

Player Evgenia Plyakova said that she testified that “Britney has always been a very good teammate, so my role here is just to be with her, to help her.”

“We miss her so much, we miss her energy,” Plyakova added. “I was very happy to see her, and I hope this trial will soon be over and yield positive results.”

The US State Department said Elizabeth Rudd, charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Moscow, and other consular officials in court were able to speak to Greiner, who told them she appreciated their presence.

The next hearing for the trial has been set for Friday.

Greiner is one of the most prominent sports in the United States, a Phoenix Mercury frontrunner and a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have said they are doing everything they can to release her, as well as other Americans the US considers “wrongly held” by Russia, including former Marine Paul Whelan.

Washington may have little leverage over Moscow, though, due to the intense hostility over its military operation in Ukraine.

Russian media speculated that Greiner could be exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor BoutNicknamed “The Merchant of Death”, he is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States after being convicted of conspiring to murder US citizens and providing assistance to a terrorist organization.

Russia has been agitating for Bout’s release for years. But the great contradiction in the seriousness of their cases can lead to such trade Unpalatable to Washington. Others suggested Griner could be traded with Whelan, who is serving 16 years in Russia on charges of espionage that the United States has described as a regime.

The State Department’s designation of Greiner as unjustly held moves her case under the supervision of its Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator. The classification angered Russia.

When asked about the possibility of trading Greiner for a Russian prison in the United States, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, a senior Russian diplomat, noted that until her trial is over “there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about any further steps.”

Ryabkov warned that US criticism, including describing Greiner as being unjustly detained and dismissive comments about the Russian judicial system, “make it difficult to engage in a detailed discussion of any potential exchange.”

Graner was authorized to be held until December 20, indicating that the trial could go on for months. However, Griner’s lawyers said they expect the matter to be concluded at the beginning of August.